Home Child 216
Grade 12 student Madison Westcott of Kingston, Ont., wrote this fictionalized but factually accurate “journal” from the point of view of her great-greatgrandmother, Margaret Jane Conlon, who travelled from Scotland to Canada as a home child in 1913. Madis
A talented high-school student writes a fictionalized “journal” of her great-great-grandmother’s true story of travelling from Scotland to Canada as a home child in 1913.
December 24, 1909
Christmas at the poorhouse isn’t any fun. We were brought here because the courts say my mum is a gypsy, but I say she’s just a regular mum. My two younger sisters, Gracie and Mary, have been crying for Pa a lot. He went to find work, but we haven’t seen him for months. Mum tried to provide for us as a basket peddler but still couldn’t make ends meet. My older brother and sisters, Winifred, Elizabeth, Ann, and Frank, are all trying to find work. I don’t expect much for Christmas, but if I did have one wish, it’s for my pa to come home.
January 8, 1910
Today is my birthday. I’m now 11 years old. My mum can’t get me anything; I don’t mind all too much. We’re still in the poorhouse. I didn’t get my Christmas wish for my pa to come home. I hope he remembers that my birthday’s today. I heard them accusing my dad of being an “exceedingly bad character.” I don’t know what that means, but I miss him bunches, and as for my mum, they say she’s not much better. Though she does right well at being my mum. I heard the bigger people whispering about me and my little sisters being sent to a place called a Quarriers Home. They say a poorhouse is no place for children, and that other arrangements will have to be made. I don’t know what that is either. I just hope if they do, that Pa will know where to find us.
March 11, 1910
I didn’t want to leave, but here we are. This is my first night in the Quarriers Home. It’s called Bridge-of-weir, in Glasgow. They put me and my sisters in cottage number 16, and I’m child number 216. The cottage sounded like a nice place to stay, but once I got here, I was disappointed. I don’t like being here without my mum. I miss her and Pa, who I haven’t seen in so long. This place is a little better than the poorhouse though, but not by much without my family with me. Glasgow is the farthest I’ve travelled from my hometown of Lanark, where I was born. There are lots of other children here, some of them have been crying for days because they miss their mums, too. Some of them are happy, saying that living here is better than the streets. I’m not sure how I feel yet, all I know is that I miss my family, but at least I have my little sisters to take care of.
June 12, 1911
The school year’s almost done. I haven’t been able to go to school for quite some time but here at the Quarries, I can catch up quite easily. Miss Hattie says I have a talent for writing, despite missing so much school. Gracie and Mary have taken to school too, and made a few friends of their own. I’ve made a few friends, too. They gave us things like pencils, books and an extra frock. I guess another good thing about being here is when I’ve grown out of my old shoes, I’m able to get a new pair.
April 7, 1912
Spring is my favourite time of year because everything seems so fresh and new, and I’ve been hearing we’ll have a fresh new start in Canada. Some of my friends are excited about this, but I’m still wondering when my ma and pa are coming to find us. What if we get all the way to Canada and they can’t find us? Gracie and Mary don’t have the same worries because they don’t have memories like I do. I wonder if they would even remember what Ma and Pa look like. I have my ma’s dark hair and Gracie and Mary have Pa’s blue eyes. They tell us that life is better in Canada and that there are many people looking for children. I wonder if my family is looking for us?
April 24, 1913
We have one month to go before we set sail on the Grampian. I’ve never been on a ship before. As much as I don’t want to leave, I’m very excited to see the ocean. We got a bunch of new things. I’ve never had this many new things before. Here’s a list of what I got: a copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress book, a new Bible, new writing materials, a smock, a Lindsay frock because it’s much colder in Canada, a petticoat, shoes, handkerchief, sewing kit, tin of pins, thread and bobbins, but my most favourite new thing is a package of ribbons. I was never able to have ribbons before.
May 23, 1913
We leave tomorrow. In preparation of leaving Scotland, all 89 of us girls were brought together to sing “Shall We Gather at the River.” While we were singing, Miss Hattie and some of the other teachers were crying; they’ve become our family over the last three years. Only a few chaperones, including grumpy Mr. Findley, are coming on the voyage with us. All us girls were given strict instructions not to speak to any passengers, and to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’ll find that hard to do.
June 2, 1913
I’ve arrived in Canada safely with my sisters. As we left the ship, our chaperons called out, “Don’t forget the homes of Scotland.” We’ve landed in a place called Quebec City. I’m amused at how many people speak French. I’ve never heard the language spoken so much before. We’re catching the train to a city called Brockville, Ont., and a place there called Fairknowe Home, where I will be studying for one more year. My sisters are very fortunate, a childless shoemaker and his wife have spoken for them, and because I am 14, I will start immediately in service after my final examinations. This is the first time in a long time where I have some idea about my future, starting over in this country called Canada. This is my chance to make my own way.
Margaret and her two younger sisters, Gracie and Mary, were among this group of girls sent to Canada.
Photo of Margaret, who tragically died at 25.
A print of the Grampian.